ATHENS, Greece (AP) — The head of Europe's public broadcasters arrived in Greece to show support for 2,600 fired staff of the country's state broadcaster and demand the conservative-led government put the stations back on the air.
Dismissed workers at the Hellenic Broadcasting Corp. or ERT have continued to occupy the broadcaster's headquarters and maintain online and satellite pirate broadcasts since the government shut down the station and its terrestrial signal Tuesday, citing the need to make austerity cuts. The government has promised to relaunch the station with fewer staff before the end of the summer.
Jean-Paul Philippot, president of the Switzerland-based European Broadcasting Union, said he would meet later Friday with Greece's Finance Minister Yannis Stournaras to hand him a petition signed by 51 European broadcast executives calling for the broadcaster's signal to be restored immediately.
Signatories include the directors of Britain's BBC, Germany's ZDF and French Television.
"We are here because it's never happened in Europe. Since the EBU was created (in 1950) no government has cut the signal of a broadcaster," Philippot told reporters at a recording studio in the occupied ERT building, about 10 kilometers (six miles) north of central Athens.
The shock closure has triggered a political crisis, with minority parties in the coalition government fiercely opposed to the move, jolting the alliance formed a year ago to push through the country's tough bailout agreement.
"This undemocratic and unprofessional action of the Greek government undermines the existence of public service media in Greece and its independence from the government," the EBU letter said.
"We strongly urge the Greek Prime Minister to immediately reverse this decision."
ERT's shutdown has drawn growing international criticism, including from the Europe's top human rights official.
EU parliament president Martin Schulz also urged Greece Friday to allow ERT to broadcast with government permission, describing the closure as a threat to Europeans' right to "the freedom and pluralism in the media."
Conservative Prime Minister Antonis Samaras is to meet with center-left coalition partners to try and resolve the disagreement that could potentially topple the government — but the two sides looked unwilling to reach a compromise.
"Our decisions regarding ERT were not easy for any of us," Finance Minister Stournaras told parliament.
"It was not possible to make a transition while remaining in operation ... Our experience with the public sector has shown us that fundamental reform is extremely difficult."
AP writers Raf Casert in Brussels and Juergen Baetz in Berlin contributed.
EBU letter: http://www3.ebu.ch/cms/en/sites/ebu/contents/news/2013/06/50-directors-general-of-PSM.html#list